Guest Post On Water Pricing

I’ve lifted this comment out of the comment box on the second water privatization post. It’s from Ed Reid, one of my very knowledgeable colleagues and sometimes, but not often enough, co-authors. Over to Ed:

Water supply shortages tend not to be short term events. They may persist for months or even years, as is the case on the West Coast, and was the case in the Mid-Atlantic region until this Spring/Summer. Therefore, there is no need (and little justification) for any response that is shorter than a meter reading period. Even if meters are read quarterly. the water authority could announce that the rates were being raised as of a certain date, and long period consumption could be prorated for the current billing period. I understand that this penalizes even those who conserve during some portion of the first long billing period, but the cost of perfection is quite high while the cost of water is generally quite low. Any inequity could be largely reversed by reducing the rates at the same point in a later billing period, after the water supply problem was resolved.

Water meters, like gas meters are not electrified, in general, so peak period measurement is not possible with most current meters; and, as pointed out earlier, is really not necessary anyway.

Many communities provide the option of separate meters for lawn watering, which are typically billed at a lower rate because no sewer charge is included in the rate. In these cases, a separate and even higher rate could be assigned to consumption through these meters during droughts or other periods of limited water supply. These users would still get a benefit when water was plentiful, but would be further penalized when water was in short supply.

Some communities, such as the older sections of Phoenix, still provide flood irrigation from their canal systems. This is a horribly wasteful practice and probably should be discontinued, especially during periods of limited water availability.

As the population of the US increases, these problems will become much more severe and will require more creative solutions. Probably one of the first end uses to be curtailed will be electric power plant cooling water, which will be hard pressed to compete with human consumption and agriculture for limited water supplies. I would vote for banning grass and rose bushes in the desert next; if you want to live in the desert, live in the desert and leave “up North” up North.

If population trends in the US continue, we will be sharing our current fresh water resources among a population of ~500 million souls by ~2050. Many once-through cooling and once-through washing applications are unlikely to survive through that period.

Waste water cleanup and reuse is very common practice today. I don’t remember the source, but I have read that the drinking water in New Orleans, LA has been through ~11 toilets on its way to the tap. Not a pleasant thought, particularly if you happen to live in NOLA, but a modern day reality apparently.

6 thoughts on “Guest Post On Water Pricing

  1. I’m a American living in Thailand. I am under the impression that since 9/11 the legal and elegal imigration to America is way down.

    From what I remember of the last censes they took, the reason that the population of America has gone up is because of imigration. With out the imigrants America would have a declining population. The same, I know for Europe. I could be wrong about America, but if it isn’t happening now it will happen in the future.

    They say that the people of London drink their own urine eight times in their life. In fact, recycled water is most times cleaner than the normally purified water.

    Please see my comments on the original posting.

  2. Jim,

    US population growth is driven by immigration (legal and illegal) and by the birth rate among first and second generation immigrants. The rest of us are just barely keeping up.

    I’d be interested in knowing how our government knows haw many illegal immigrants are entering the country. Hmmm?

  3. Ed

    Yes! It would be interesting to know how our government knows or doesn’t know how many illegal immigrants enter America.

  4. Yeah, according to the famous demographer at the University of Michigan, whose name I can’t remember and am too lazy to look up, white people are reproducing at replacement rates — 2.1 children per woman — black people somewhat higher and Hispanics in the 3 children per woman range. IOW, even without immigration we would see some population growth, though not to the 500 million level.

    I mentioned it earlier and no-one seemed to notice. Maybe I’m completely in left field on this one and no-one wanted to embarrass me. Go ahead and embarrass me: is it possible that a developed water market could assist with flooding? If the flooding is known in advance, resourceful water distributors would be able to make additional draw-downs of a river ahead of the flooding, or is the amount of water just too overwhelming to ever be dealt with in this matter?

  5. Robert,

    The most practical way to contain the huge volumes of water involved in a flood is one or more dams. Unfortunately, building dams is frequently opposed by environmentalists. There is a possibility, on very long rivers, that extra irrigation water could be taken from the river downstream of the area experiencing the flooding rains. However, in many cases, flooding rains cover such a large area that fields would already be saturated. The economics of storing such quantities of water in holding tanks would be prohibitive, especially for private companies. There is also the additional issue of how the dam is managed: a private water supplier would tend to manage the dam to maximize stored water (deliverable inventory); a flood manager would tend to manage the dam to maintain some minimum available storage volume, to retain water in the event of a flood.

    Regarding US population, our growth rate would be almost 1/2% higher absent the ~1.3 million abortions which occur here each year.

  6. Thanks for the answer, Ed. It was just something that occurred to me and I wanted to know if it was practical or not. The other problem with dams is that they just push the problem downstream. If you are willing to dam an entire river I suppose it would be a complete solution.

    Yes, the abortion issue is a touchy one but no doubt has an impact on population growth, particularly given their frequency.

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